There’s a scholarship out there
waiting for you



By Martha Ravits
For The Register-Guard
Feb. 21, 2017

The end of February marks the close of the application season for four-year colleges and pushes into high gear the search for scholarship money to make attending college possible. As college costs soar, the search for scholarship and grant money becomes ever more urgent.

Since higher education is one of the greatest democratizing forces in our country, students of all backgrounds should persevere in trying to find money to make college affordable. Those who expend effort in their scholarship search in the coming months will reap benefits for next fall.

There are lots of scholarships to apply for. Colleges and foundations have established scholarships for students who belong to underrepresented groups: racial and ethnic minorities, foster youth, students who are the first generation in their family to attend college, students from rural areas. In response to current events, an East Coast college recently posted a scholarship for refugees.

Scholarships are generally of two types: need-based and merit.

Students who qualify for need-based financial aid have already submitted their most important scholarship applications — the college applications for their chosen campuses. Scholarships that offer substantial money, the kind that help support a student for four years, come from the colleges themselves. These institutional awards are based on student achievement and financial need. Full-ride scholarships can exceed $60,000 annually at private colleges. While these scholarships are widely talked about, they are rare.

Guidelines for need-based scholarships are posted on college and university websites. They require the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine eligibility based on such factors as family income, assets and number of siblings. Private colleges and universities may require additional financial forms like the College Scholarship Search Profile.

Colleges then apportion their scholarship funds according to federal and institutional formulas. Recipients are notified in the college acceptance letters that arrive in the spring.

The fun and creative part of the scholarship search begins after college applications are submitted, when students turn their attention to gathering additional money for higher education. There are many avenues to pursue.

Students can visit their high school counseling office or career center, where assorted scholarships are filed by due date. They can also search online, where information and applications are just a mouse-click away.

Merit scholarships come from many sources and are awarded for various criteria in addition to academics: One need not be a straight-A and -B student to apply. There are scholarships for musical or artistic talent, for outstanding contributions to a good cause and for extracurricular activities. There are scholarships for students who intend to study a particular subject, from aeronautical engineering to zoology, and for students aspiring to particular careers, from medicine to jewelry design.

A clearinghouse for vast numbers of scholarships is, run by the federal government. Large scholarship search engines set up online registration surveys for students to fill out and then tailor scholarship information to a student’s qualifications and needs. asks a student to create a profile and then sends email reminders when due dates approach for scholarships the student is eligible for.

Merit or specialized scholarships generally range from $250 to $2,500. Google “weird scholarships” and you will find there are scholarships for asparagus growers, Pokémon champions and clowns. “Stuck at Prom” scholarships award $10,000 for colorful photos of students in prom attire created entirely out of duct tape. A new scholarship invites students to write down an anti-bullying message, shred the paper and submit an application. There are scholarships for redheads (natural only), for the dyslexic and for single mothers. Some scholarships require thoughtful essays about ethical issues or historic events. and award scholarships through random drawings — no essay needed.

A word of caution: No legitimate scholarship requires a payment or fee. Scholarships are meant to give away money, not collect it.

For most Oregon students, chances of winning scholarships are highest through the Oregon Office of Student Access and Completion. Its website,, administers nearly 500 scholarships worth more than $15 million each year. Some are specialized, designated for graduates of certain high schools or students of families affiliated with certain industries.

Most OSAC scholarships are for use at Oregon colleges, but some may be taken out of state. Students can maximize their chances of success by visiting the OSAC website, filling out the registration filter and completing applications before the due date of March 1.

The OSAC site reads: “Think you can’t afford college? Think again!” Now is prime time for students to search for extra dollars and meaningful awards that will help them achieve their educational goals.


Martha Ravits of Eugene is an independent­ college consultant and a former professor of English and women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon.